Climax after climax after climax — the anti-climaxes keep on coming.
I thought the U.S. walkout of the August World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances was climactic. The end of the conference on Sept. 7 was anti-climactic. The horrific attack in New York and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11 was anti-climactic. Our abrupt landing in the Cape Verde Islands minutes later was anti-climactic. My firing on Sept. 15 was insignificant, except when viewed as an attack upon First Amendment rights. Then it, too, becomes anti-climactic.
There is so much to tell. So much we have learned and want to share. So much to think about. So much responsibility to help one another grow from the pain and horror. Where do we start in sharing?
Do we look at the pain suffered by each country represented at the world conference as they were confronted by their experiences — past and present — regarding racism and discrimination? At the conference itself, there was so much more than was reported in the general American media:
The Dalits — untouchables of India — insisting that caste as well as race be considered. The Roma — Europe's "Gypsies" — detailing generation after generation of overt and covert discrimination. Women confronting the all-male African panel of "experts," challenging their right as oppressors to speak on behalf of women discriminated against throughout the continent. The Maori of New Zealand, the Inuit of Canada, the Twa of Rwanda, Han ethnics from China, Tibetan exiles — all forcing acknowledgment of past and present imperfections and work still to be done.
Their voices were painful to hear. But hearing them started the healing. Absent were American voices. Our absence was noted, and felt, throughout the world.
The hideous events of Sept. 11 are dominating national conversation, as well they must. There is little media attention to other matters. The disappeared surplus, the Bush tax cuts, campaign financing reform, local election reform, out-of-control violence in our streets, "slap on the wrist" sentencing for perpetrators of statutory rape, the fact that the animal rights bill has been voted down and the child protective bill has not been brought up…
Immediately following the unthinkable, on Day 1, or even Day 2, did you hear anyone besides myself, in an attempt to understand (not justify) the horror, ask, "Why would someone want to commit this evil act?" Or note that in this globalized age, U.S. policy — its actions and inactions overseas (justified or not) — can easily lead to consequences at home? Was anyone besides myself, after coming out of the world conference and experiencing it up close, aware of the extent and depth of anti-American feeling prior to the terrorism?
Is it at all relevant? Deepak Chopra has asked, "What was the root cause of this evil? … Does this evil grow from the suffering and anguish felt by people we don't know and therefore ignore? Have they lived in this condition for a long time? One assumes that whoever did this attack feels implacable hatred for America. Why were we selected to be the focus of suffering around the world?"
America now knows, in the most personal way, to the depths of its civilian vulnerability, that it is a part of the world. Obviously, whoever did this must be found and put away forever. Vengeance is an understandable emotion as the body count and saber-rattling mount. But, as Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe noted, "… it is also eerie that, suddenly, we want help on terrorism at the very time when we have been isolating ourselves from the world stage, from the environment to racism to missile defense…"
There are those who found my willingness to ask why America is hated — especially at a time of such national pain — to be unpatriotic. There are those who likened my allowing callers to say things like "The chickens have come home to roost" to Tokyo Rose. I said on the air and say now in print that the beauty and strength of America is our diversity: of people, of opinions, of life experiences.
Americans come in all shapes, sizes, races and belief systems. It was the strength of America that we could say all that — and more — on the air. It was that which made us American. Those were the freedoms which made us great. To me, the most precious of all rights in this marvelous country is the freedom to think, write and say whatever is on your mind, subject to the laws of libel. That freedom does extend to thoughts that are stupid, ignorant or incendiary.
No one needs a First Amendment for innocuous ideas or popular points of view. The majority must always protect the rights of the minority to express the most outrageous and offensive ideas. Only then is total freedom of expression guaranteed. To give up those freedoms voluntarily seems to me to be allowing the terrorists to win. We are giving them the right to silence us, to take away the very freedoms we have fought and given our lives for. We are poorer for it.
When asked what the role of the media is in times of military conflict, Prof. Jacqueline Sharkey, author of "Under Fire: U.S. Military Restrictions on the Media from Grenada to the Persian Gulf," replied: "In times of conflict, it is the responsibility of the news media to raise questions and cover controversies by presenting as many points of view as possible. Especially at a time when long-term military options are being considered, it is crucial for the news media to provide the public with an understanding of the political, historical, economic and cultural factors that have created the situation."
As our president prepares for war, students at colleges and universities throughout the nation are petitioning for peace. Alternatives are being sought.
Listen to Chopra again: "There can be no safety until the root cause is faced. In this moment of shock, I don't think any one of us has the answers. It is imperative that we pray and offer solace to one another. But if you and I are having a single thought of violence or hatred against anyone in the world at this moment, we are contributing to the wounding of the world."
Listen to the Dalai Lama: "The only factor that can give you refuge or protection from the destructive effects of anger and hatred is your practice of tolerance and patience."
Now, when jingoism and desire for vengeance are high, remember that the United States remains the greatest hope for mutual accommodation and tolerance in the world. May our leaders find the wisdom to seek out justice, not vengeance. May we confront our enemies with strength and with kindness and avoid today's global patterns in which one wrong makes a wrong makes a wrong. May we realize the need to re-engage the world. The stakes cannot be higher.
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